LONGMONT — Sometimes, looking a part is a great warmup for playing it.
So it is for the restaurant careers class at the St. Vrain Valley School District’s Career Development Center.
“(The chef’s hat) gives you bad hat hair,” said Lyons High School junior Savannah Watson, 16.
Despite the fashion concessions, she continued, the get-up — from the chef’s hat to the white jacket — does help her get down to business in the center’s industrial-sized kitchen.
Recently, that meant paying attention to guest speaker Haylee Otto, the culinary program representative from Johnson & Wales University in Denver.
Though focused on turning plain old chicken into the most mouthwatering orange ginger chicken, Otto used the demonstration to review the basics, too.
Besides reviewing the five “mother” sauces — the base recipes for every sauce under the sun — she gave slurry and roue pointers.
The key? Use a 1-to-1 ratio of water and corn starch, she said, and very gradually mix the slurry. Same goes for making a good roue, a thickener made with flour and fat.
Despite the time-tested formulas, Otto told students to stay flexible at the stove.
“Cooking is like finger painting,” she said. “Baking is more of a science. But cooking is not. Experiment!”
To do that safely, culinary arts instructor Bill Linger began the semester by drilling students on fundamentals.
Evidently, they got it.
During Otto’s pop quiz, they recalled the “temperature danger zone,” that window between 41 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, that allows bacteria to grow like weeds.
And they knew to throw out food that sits four hours or more in that zone.
“I’ve got a greater appreciation for McDonald’s now because they have the strictest health standards in the fast-food industry,” Watson said.
To meet that standard at home and in the workplace, the class memorized the rules: Chicken and turkey must be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, pork to 155 degrees, beef to 140 and ground beef to 155.
But the class also has been learning the aesthetic side of the business, beginning with good cuts.
Watson can now wield a tourné knife well enough to flute the cap of a mushroom, she said.
These skills, like learning algebra or creative writing, may lead to a career, Linger said.
“I don’t want hamburger turners. ... I want kids who want to learn how to be executive chefs,” he said.
For some, wearing their whites for a paycheck is the goal.
To make sure CDC is recruiting and training toward that practical end, director Alan Stroh keeps in close touch with local industry leaders and watches state statistics to gauge demand, he said.
But for others, the class is another educational front to explore and use daily.
“My boyfriend cooks a lot for dinner, and he teases me that I can’t cook,” said Silver Creek sophomore Carly Gerbore, 16. “So I’m thinking maybe I will be showing him up one of these days.”
Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at email@example.com.